On Wednesday morning, it was standing room only on the 8th floor of the downtown LA Hall of Justice as Sheriff Jim McDonnell, three Members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, child advocates and others, gathered together with an array of dynamic young women who were themselves sexually trafficked as children and teenagers, but who now have become powerful spokespersons for American children who are victims of child sex trafficking, and then are further traumatized by being arrested and charged with prostitution.
When McDonnell spoke to the crowd he made a point of sending a message to all 18,000 plus LASD personnel, that the department was not only building a regional task force to “seek to dismantle the criminal enterprises” and “bring to justice traffickers,” but it also intended to go after “individuals who create the demand that sustains these crimes”—in other words, the johns who buy sex from children.
In addition, McDonnell said he was instructing department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes.”
The LA County Board of Supervisors had just passed a resolution supporting these same goals on Tuesday of this week.
Yet, McDonnell and the rest who spoke at the nearly three hour press-conference, admitted that accomplishing these goals is complicated, and is going to require all hands on deck.
We’ll have more on the event and on other parts of this important issue soon. So stay tuned.
US HIGH COURT TO HEAR ARGUMENTS ON HOW POLICE HANDLE ARMED, MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE
This week, the US Supreme Court will consider in what capacity law enforcement officers must adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act during an encounter with a mentally ill (or otherwise disabled) person who is armed and violent.
In San Francisco v. Sheehan, officers shot a woman with schizoaffective disorder in a group home who, in midst of a psychiatric crisis, had locked herself in a room with a knife after threatening her social worker. Sheehan survived the shooting. She has since sued the police department for resorting first to lethal force instead of attempting to deescalate the confrontation.
Law enforcement groups are keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court case, which they say could undermine police tactics, place officers and bystanders at risk, force departments to spend thousands in new training and open them to additional liability.
The ADA was designed to regulate institutional policies, not an individual officer’s behavior, said Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which filed a brief supporting San Francisco.
Stephens said that while departments around the country receive training to de-escalate and avoid using force in a situation with an unstable person, it’s not always possible to do so.
But mental health advocates say the ADA requires police to act less aggressively when arresting or detaining people with disabilities. Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s disability rights program, said the ADA should apply to all situations, especially emergencies when the disabled most need to be accommodated.
“This case is not unusual. There are a lot of Sheehan situations out there where there is an opportunity not to rush in, and take a moment,” Center said.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: RADLEY BALKO SAYS WE ASK THE WRONG QUESTIONS ABOUT POLICE KILLINGS
Last summer, Dallas police officers shot and killed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill man who police say threatened them with a screwdriver. Late last week, Harrison’s family members, who are suing the Dallas Police Dept., released footage captured by one of the officers’ body cameras during the encounter. (You can watch it here.)
The police department concluded their internal investigation into whether or not the officers broke any laws and chose to turn it over to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says that instead of just looking at whether the killing was lawful and within department policy, we should also ask whether the killing was necessary, or whether it could have been deescalated by the officers. Balko also says that if the killing of this man suffering from mental illness could have been reasonably avoided, we must also determine what needs to change in order to prevent such shootings in the future. Here’s a clip:
Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.
Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?
The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?
From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. It’s the cops who begin yelling and who take a confrontational stance. Yes, Harrison was holding a small screwdriver. And yes, in the right circumstances, even a small screwdriver can do a lot of damage. That doesn’t mean you pull your gun on everyone who is holding a small screwdriver. Now, there’s probably nothing illegal about a police officer unnecessarily escalating a situation with his words or his body. There’s certainly nothing illegal about his failure to deescalate.
But that’s precisely why Was this illegal? is the wrong question. The better question is, Was this an acceptable outcome? And if the answer is no, then the follow-up question is, What needs to change to stop this from happening again?
GOV BROWN CALLS ON CALIFORNIA BUSINESSES TO EMPLOY EX-OFFENDERS TO REDUCE REVIDIVISM
At a employer forum at Merritt College in Oakland, California Governor Jerry Brown urged businesses to hire former offenders to give them the means to successfully transition back into their communities. Brown called the issue one of public safety as well as about “being a human being.”
Brown says a lack of work will keep them locked out of a permanent place in their communities and, too often, locked up behind bars once again.
“This work I see is, yes, about public safety, but it’s also about being a human being,” says Brown.
Now, Brown is hoping that providing employers with information and incentives will encourage more of them to do their part. That means tax breaks, talent matching, bond reimbursements and training subsidies of between $5-10,000 per employee.
Businesses can also take part in a Joint Venture Program that offers what officials call attractive benefits for employing people while they’re still in custody, in the hopes of providing them a seamless transition once they’re out.
LA COUNTY DISAGREES ABOUT HOW TO KEEP SEX-TRAFFICKED KIDS FROM BEING PULLED BACK TO THE STREETS
Within the last few years, LA County has shifted away from criminalizing and locking up sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and diverting them from juvenile detention into foster care. But placing trafficked girls into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors does not always work. Sometimes the young girls run away, and return to the streets and their pimps.
The LA County Board of Supervisors and head of the Department of Children and Family Services, Philip Browning, don’t all agree on how to address this complex problem.
…as county supervisors debate establishing a treatment center for these youth, the issue of locking up foster children has become a quagmire.
On one side are those who say the state should act like a responsible parent to stop children from leaving their home to meet pimps and johns. On the other side are those who say that locking up children mirrors the confinement that predators subject them to, and will ultimately fail to cure the problem.
“This is really the issue that everyone keeps coming back to,” said Allison Newcombe, an attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights who represents sex-trafficked children. “Everyone has such strong opinions.”
Law enforcement officials say criminal gangs have increasingly turned from selling drugs to selling children for sex because a drug can be sold once, but a child can be sold repeatedly. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a child’s life expectancy after being involved in sex trafficking is seven years, with AIDS and homicide being the leading causes of death.
Pimps capitalize on the porous barriers between foster care facilities and the outside world, advocates say, by calling vulnerable children, sending them letters and infiltrating group homes with young recruiters. In some cases, the pimps persuade children to get tattoos of their names.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who opposes efforts to allow locking up foster children who are at risk of being lured into sex trafficking, said the recruitment for prostitution in the county’s juvenile detention facilities proves that confining children is not a solution.
Leading the push to establish a locked facility for some foster youth are Los Angeles County’s child welfare chief, Philip Browning, and Supervisor Don Knabe. Both are lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to change laws that currently prohibit confining foster care youth who are at risk.
Browning said he reluctantly came to support such an option after social workers watched children as young as 10 and 11 run from county foster care facilities to rendezvous with pimps and johns.
“We have a small number of youth in foster care where our current programs simply haven’t worked,” Browning said. “Frankly, I’m not certain that the current facilities provide the level of security that I would like.”
EARLY ASSESSMENT OF PROP 47 IN LA, AND WHERE COUNTY AGENCIES THINK THE $$ SHOULD GO
At a county public safety meeting on Wednesday, LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented a draft report assessing the county’s implementation of Proposition 47. (Prop 47 reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.)
At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, the CEO’s office worked with other county agencies—District Attorney, Sheriff’s Dept., Courts, Public Defender, and Alternate Public Defender—to pinpoint the programs and efforts that could qualify for and benefit from Prop 47 funding, and to gauge the effects of the legislation, thus far.
Of the state money saved by Prop 47, 65% is to go to mental health and drug programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will be spent on reducing truancy and helping at-risk students, and 10% will go to trauma recovery centers for crime victims. But it is still not clear how that money will get portioned out to counties, or if there will be restrictions on what the counties want to do with their money.
Some of the efforts county agencies flagged as deserving of grant dollars included victim services and restitution, community-based mental health programs for Prop-47ers, urgent care centers, the New Direction diversion pilot program to keep kids in school, and a reentry program for kids in probation camps.
The report says that it is still too early to tell what long-term effects Prop 47 will have in Los Angeles. However, county agencies shared some short-term effects, including courts clogged with people seeking downgrade their felonies, and a fewer number of offenders signing up for mental health and drug rehab programs.
By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.
Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.
Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.
The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.
TECH IN JUVENILE LOCK-UP PART 2: SAN DIEGO INVESTS IN COMPUTERS, TECH EDUCATION FOR KIDS BEHIND BARS
On Tuesday, we shared the first of Adriene Hill’s two stories for NPR’s Marketplace about correctional facilities that have taken meaningful steps toward bringing education up to par for kids behind bars by incorporating educational technology into the curriculum.
Hill’s second story takes place in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, where every kid has a laptop to use in class.
In San Diego County, the Office of Education has spent $900,000 on computers and accessories for kids in juvenile corrections facilities. Teachers are being trained on how to use the computers to help teach lessons, and tech instruction is now on the docket. And with the added technology, lessons can be tailored to kids’ individual needs.
Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities. Soon every one of the 200 kids here will have access to a Chromebook in class. All the teachers are being trained to run a digital classroom and add tech to the curriculum.
But getting to this point took more than a big investment. It took a significant culture shift.
“At first, we were a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” says Mindy McCartney, supervising probation officer, who is charged with keeping the youth here under control.
“Everybody thinks they are going to use [the laptop] as a Frisbee, or attack somebody, or they are going to tag it and break it,” she says. “And it simply hasn’t happened.”
There was also anxiety about turning on the internet, even though there were firewalls and monitoring systems in place.
“We hear ‘internet’ and ‘access’ and we automatically get very paranoid and think the worst-case scenarios,” McCartney says.
But, so far, McCartney says there have not been significant problems. Kids aren’t using laptops as weapons. They’re not sneaking messages to gang members on the outside. In fact, teachers say the technology has made their students here more engaged in what they’re learning. That’s exactly the type of progress experts say the juvenile justice system desperately needs to make.
In many ways, educational technology is perfectly suited to kids in custody. Students who have committed crimes are constantly being yanked in and out of class. They have court hearings and meetings with probation officers.
“We do have a population that moves around a lot,” says teacher Yolanda Collier. She says when students have their own computers and some lessons are online, they don’t have to fall behind.
Say there are some supplementary stories, an interview…videos…and such, if I want.
TEENAGERS HOUSED WITH ADULTS, PRISON RAPE, AND WHAT MUST HAPPEN BEFORE INMATES ARE SAFE
The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has an excellent longread chronicling the failures of the justice system to protect inmates from rape, and the gaps in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Chammah focuses, in particular, on the sexual violence inflicted on vulnerable teenage boys who are placed in adult detention facilities.
Chammah tells the harrowing story of “John Doe 1,” a 17-year-old repeatedly brutalized by adult men in multiple prisons. John’s experiences are all-too-common, especially in states where 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Here are some clips:
The second time David raped him, John says David held a homemade weapon to his throat. It was a toothbrush, wired up with four or five shaving razors.
The third and fourth times, David just left the weapon on his desk, in clear view, and relied on John’s fear to keep him passive.
Then, one morning around 6 a.m., while out on the yard for recreation, John says he saw David receive a mesh laundry bag from a prisoner he didn’t know. He could see that it contained meat sticks and bags of chips. These kinds of exchanges were common; he figured the other prisoner might be trading the food for the use of his cell as a quiet place for tattooing or some other illicit activity. (Official policy forbade prisoners from visiting other cells, but officers frequently looked the other way.)
That afternoon, John returned to his “house,” as prisoners call their cells, and saw his cellmate’s key—in this prison, every inmate had a key to his own cell—sitting on the desk. His cellmate was in bed. Feeling greasy after his kitchen shift, John started to undress so he could take a shower. As he took off his pants, he saw the mesh bag of food. He looked over and realized the man in the bed was not David. It was the prisoner who had handed over the bag of food. The man rose from the bed, grabbed David’s toothbrush weapon, held it to John’s cheek, and forced him down. This prisoner had a jar of Vaseline, but it did not do much; after he left, John found blood on his clothes.
John says he was raped several more times by both his cellmate and strangers. He was forced to perform oral sex, and he still remembers brushing his teeth twice to get the taste out of his mouth. He never told medical staff about his anal bleeding because he felt embarrassed, though because of a foot injury he was able to get painkillers.
John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a “fag,” a “girl,” and a “bust-down.”
Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point. Around 2 p.m. one day, David tried to touch the middle of his back. John pushed his hands away. David forced him up against a locker and wrapped his hands around John’s neck. John wrestled his way out, and emerged from the cell barefoot. Hanging a left, he ran to the guard station, and begged them to assign him to a different cell. He didn’t mention the rapes, only his cellmate’s attempt to choke him. The officers allowed John to grab his few possessions and move down the hall, closer to their station.
His new cellmate was not a predator, but by then John had been tagged as easy prey. Two days after he was moved, another prisoner cornered him in his cell and raped him. It seemed like other prisoners had figured out his schedule—when he would be alone in his cell, or in the shower. He was called a “fuckboy,” a term for the men who are “gay for pay,” trading sex for food or other favors, even though John said he never did.
It is impossible to know how many of the teenagers sent to adult prisons in recent years have been sexually assaulted, in part because so many of them have been afraid to report. (Rape outside of prison is known to be under-reported, and the same is true within prison walls, especially because prisoners face the possibility of retaliation by both correctional staff and other prisoners.)
Some corrections officials have pointed out that sexual assaults regularly occur in juvenile facilities as well as in adult ones. But many non-violent crimes lead to probation, rather than incarceration, when they’re handled by the juvenile system, and a 1989 study found that prisoners under 18 in adult prisons reported being “sexually attacked” five times more often than their peers in juvenile institutions.
CALIFORNIA TEACHERS WILL NOW BE TRAINED TO IDENTIFY CHILD ABUSE
Thanks to a new state law, California teachers and other school employees are now required to take an online training course on how to identify child abuse and neglect, and how to report it.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “The new online training lessons will help school employees carry out their responsibilities to protect children and take action if they suspect abuse or neglect.”
[Stephanie] Papas, who helped create the new two-hour online training, said the course will help employees tell if a child has been hurt from abuse or from an accident, for example.
“We have photos that are examples of, say, a welt that is in the shape of a belt buckle or a slap on a child’s cheek that’s left a hand imprint,” she said.
The number of suspensions dropped by 14.1% to 609,471 last year from 709,596 over the previous year. Expulsions declined by 12.3% to 8,562 from 9,758 over the same period, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Suspensions declined among nearly all ethnic groups, including reductions of about 10% for African Americans, Latinos and whites. But, continuing a pattern that has prompted national concern, African Americans were still disproportionately suspended, with a rate of 16.2% last year although they make up 6.3% of the statewide student population.
The data represent the state’s first year-to-year comparison of disciplinary actions taken against students including their racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“Although fewer students are being removed from the classroom in every demographic across the state, the rates remain troubling and show that educators and school communities have a long road ahead,” Torlakson said in a statement.
(Read on for more, including data on how LA Unified is fairing with its push for alternative discipline strategies.)
WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: A FOCUS ON A SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL’S DISCIPLINE TRANSFORMATION
In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of how one San Francisco elementary school, in particular, has dropped its overall suspension rate a whopping 89% by implementing trauma-informed practices. Here are some clips:
For one young student – let’s call him Martin — the 2012-2013 school year at El Dorado Elementary in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco was a tough one, recalls Joyce Dorado, director of UCSF HEARTS — Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools.
“He was hurting himself in the classroom, kicking the teacher, just blowing out of class many times a week.” There was good reason. The five-year-old was exposed to chronic violence and suffered traumatic losses. His explosions were normal reactions to events that overwhelmed him.
This year, Martin’s doing better. That’s because he spent months working with a HEARTS therapist, and that therapist worked with his teachers and other school staff to create a more safe and supportive learning environment. Still, on days when he feels extremely anxious, Martin sometimes asks to visit the school’s Wellness Center, a small, bright room stocked with comforting places to sit, headphones to listen to music, and soft and squishy toys.
“If a student starts to lose it, the teacher can give the kid a pass to go to the Wellness Center,” says Dorado. “The kid signs in, circles emotions on a ‘feelings’ chart (to help the person who staffs the center understand how to help the child). The staff member starts a timer. The kid gets five to 10 minutes. The kid can sit on the couch with a blanket, listen to music, squeeze rubber balls to relieve tension and anger, or talk to the staff member. Kids who use the room calm down so that they can go back to class…
In 2008-2009, the year before HEARTS was introduced at El Dorado, there were 674 referrals – students sent to the principal’s office for fighting, yelling, or some other inappropriate behavior.
During the last school year – 2012-2013, there was a 74% drop, to only 175. This year, only 50 referrals have occurred.
There were 80 suspensions in 2008-2009. And although suspensions increased for four years to 150 in 2011-2012, last year they dropped 89%, to only 17. So far this year, only three students have been suspended.
As El Dorado Elementary School Principal Silvia Cordero thought when she first heard about trauma-informed practices: “Why don’t all schools have this?”
It’s a public health issue, explains Dorado, because the toxic stress caused by chronic trauma can harm children’s brains. Toxic stress alters the brain’s structure and functioning, so that a child is hyper-vigilant. With their trigger reset on “red alert”, they can flip into “fight, fight, or freeze” mode even when they aren’t in real danger. As a result, they can have trouble concentrating, learning, or sitting still. They can erupt into rages, lash out at others or hurt themselves. Or they can withdraw in fear and not participate in anything that’s going on around them. None of this behavior is intentional, says Dorado.
Many teachers and principals think kids’ “bad” behavior is deliberate, and that the kids can control it. But it’s often not and they can’t – not without help, says Dorado. Their behaviors are a normal response to stresses they’re not equipped to deal with. Throwing a punch makes sense if they’re jumping in to defend their mother from an alcoholic raging father; screaming in fury is a normal reaction to a bully who continuously harasses them. But when the raised voice of a teacher or a counselor who’s criticizing them inadvertently triggers the same response, these behaviors look “abnormal, rude, or inappropriate,” says Dorado. “So, they’re getting kicked out of class and disengage from school. That puts our kids at incredible risk for later problems, including imprisonment.”
AN ALAMEDA COUNTY COURT’S COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO HELPING EXPLOITED GIRLS
In Alameda County, an innovative court for at-risk girls—primarily aimed at helping young girls forced into prostitution—has collaborated with social services to provide teens with crucial resources and personal guidance to help them out of crisis situations.
The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the Alameda County Girls Court’s specialized approach. Here’s a clip:
Girls Court brings an all-hands-on-deck approach to the lives of vulnerable girls, linking them to social service agencies, providing informal Saturday sessions on everything from body image to legal jargon, and offering a team of adults in whom they can develop trust. And while still in its early years, the system is showing promise.
Founded two and a half years ago and carved out of the existing juvenile court, the Girls Court is for young women considered most at risk, especially those forced into prostitution. It is part of a network of a half-dozen or so Girls Courts around the country, each with a different emphasis. The results have been encouraging: The court in Hawaii, a program where both parents and girls attend counseling for a year, has led to a marked decrease in detentions, according to a 2011 evaluation. The Orange County Girls court, which was started in 2009, intervenes in the lives of teenage girls in long-term foster care, with preliminary studies suggesting better grades and fewer placements.
“It’s a unique alignment between adversaries,” Laurel Bellows, a Chicago lawyer and co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s anti-trafficking task force, said of the court’s collaborative approach. “These are not easy victims to deal with.”
MISSING FROM THE STATE OF THE UNION: DRUG POLICY AND MASS INCARCERATION
On Monday, we pointed to an op-ed by Juliet Sorensen (daughter of Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter and advisor), urging Obama to address drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech. Drug policy was nowhere to be seen in Tuesday’s speech, but that wasn’t the only elephant missing from the room.
Drug reform is the one that disappointed me most. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is hugely significant, given the number of Americans who are locked in cages under prohibition, the disproportionate impact on minority families, and the tension between anti-prohibitionist states and federal law enforcement. Obama told the New Yorker’s editor that state legalization experiments should go forward. But drug policy was missing from his speech.
US ATTORNEY BIROTTE ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEA OF LOS ANGELES CHILD SEX TRAFFICKER
On Tuesday, US Attorney André Birotte’s office announced that Paul Edward Bell, an alleged member of the Rolling 60s Crips, pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking of young girls in LA. Specifically, Bell housed four girls between the ages of 15 and 17, who were recruited in the Inland Empire, and forced them to work as prostitutes in Lynwood and Compton in 2011. Bell faces 30 years in federal prison, and is the last of eight defendants convicted after an investigation by the Inland Child Exploitation/Prostitution Task Force. (The task force is made up of officers from the FBI and law enforcement agencies across Southern California.)
The investigation in this case began in January of 2011, when the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department learned that teenage girls attending schools in the Inland Empire were being recruited to work as prostitutes. The investigation later revealed that Alberti attended one of the schools and recruited underage females by “grooming them”—or gaining their trust and telling them that they could make large sums of money by working as prostitutes for Alberti’s pimp. The girls who were successfully recruited to work as prostitutes were brought to the Los Angeles area, where they were housed by Bell and the Rogers brothers at hotels on and near Long Beach Boulevard or at Bell’s apartment.
Bell also admitted to physically abusing one of the girls. Here’s a clip from the plea agreement detailing the incident:
In April 2011, Victim 4, then 17, worked as a prostitute for defendant while Samuel Rogers [one of the other eight defendants] was incarcerated. During that time, defendant harbored Victim 4 at the Euclid Residence with other prostitutes defendant employed. Also, during that time, defendant knew that Victim 4 was 17 years old. While working as a prostitute under defendant’s supervision and direction, on our about April 6, 2011, defendant physically abused Victim 4 for not performing as a prostitute and for acting up. Therefore defendant used force to cause Victim 4 to engage in commercial sex acts.
Here’s what US Attorney Birotte had to say about Bell’s case, according to the FBI’s announcement:
“Sex trafficking is an abominable crime that condemns its victims to physical and psychological trauma, hardship and abuse,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Mr. Bell and his cohorts coldly and brutally victimized young women and juveniles, subjecting them to treatment that can only be described as inhumane. Bell exploited his victims for profit and now he will be held accountable and punished for his predatory conduct.”
We’ve reported on this issue before. Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe are working to put a focus on child sex trafficking, with an emphasis on decriminalizing and aiding the child prostitutes. (These arrests were actually made in Mark Ridley-Thomas’ district.)
“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas…“We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”
Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.
GOV BROWN TO PUMP MORE MONEY INTO PRIVATE PRISONS REGARDLESS OF JUDGES’ PENDING DECISION
Governor Jerry Brown’s recently proposed budget, which banks on federal judges pushing back California’s prison overcrowding deadline by two years, would still increase spending on private prisons and jail leasing. We at WLA are not thrilled with this news. (Read the backstory here.)
Detailed expenditure records released after Brown announced the highlights of his proposed budget for 2014-15 show that the governor expects to increase the use of outside prison contracts. His plan sets aside nearly $500 million to pay for and administer prison contracts to take nearly 17,700 inmates, increases of $100 million and 4,700 prisoners over the current year.
A little more than half of those prisons are out of state. The rest are community correctional centers, which could be run by local governments or private prison operators.
The governor’s planning documents show that even with that increase in spending, California prisons would remain 3,000 inmates over what federal judges say they can safely hold and still provide adequate healthcare and psychiatric services. The documents do not show how Brown plans to address further growth of the state’s prison population.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO VOTE ON SPENDING RULES REGARDING HIGH-NEEDS YOUTH
Today, the California Board of Education is expected to vote on important new rules to ensure school district accountability on spending extra budget money on at-risk students.
The first draft of these spending rules was trashed by education advocates three months ago. They said districts would have the freedom to spend extra money however they pleased. Now the state board is back with new rules that require each school district to show how they’ll use the money to increase services for low-income students, foster youth, and english-learners…but student advocates are not entirely satisfied…
PATT MORRISON DISCUSSES THE STRANGER THEORIES REGARDING THE LOWERED CRIME RATE
Last week, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that citywide violent crime rates were down by 12% and property crimes were down 4%, in 2013, keeping up an 11-year crime reduction streak.
In an LA Times editorial, Patt Morrison offers some of the loonier circulating theories on what factors may have contributed to the decline in crime. Morrison says the crime rate drop is cheering, but that it cannot go on forever, and advises the mayor and police chief to be prepared for a time when the numbers move in a different direction.
The mayor and the police chief, Eric Garcetti and Charlie Beck, respectively, were justifiably over the moon this week about the winning streak, 11 years of plummeting crime rates, the lowest overall since 1949.
Both of them credited community policing, community groups and the use of computerized crime data for the laudable numbers.
Some other theories have been floated, some more far-fetched than others, but there’s a master’s thesis lurking in each and every one of them:
Full prisons. The more people you put behind bars, the fewer criminally inclined are out and about to commit more crimes. Although that seems right intuitively, the numbers don’t necessarily bear that out.
Recession. Also counterintuitive because you’d expect that poverty would drive people to desperate, violent measures. Researchers are puzzling over why this didn’t happen. Maybe the potential evildoers just couldn’t afford to buy guns and bludgeons.
Whatever’s making crime diminish, I am, as an Angeleno, delighted that it’s happening. But logic argues that this decline can’t go on indefinitely; there has never been a zero-crime society in human history, insofar as I know.
The difficult part for both Garcetti and Beck will be in tempering their deserved pleasure at the good numbers and getting some talking points and research ready for the inevitable day when the numbers are not so good.
(Jump down to the second section for the story on the above photo.)
COMPONENTS OF A COMPETENT JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake says locking kids up should be considered the last available option and used “for the shortest time possible.” He says, however, that putting fewer kids behind bars is not the only missing piece of the youth justice reform puzzle.
Here are some clips:
The overwhelming lessons of science and experience should be enough to convince policymakers to use detention, jail or prison as a last resort and for the shortest time possible. Instead, most states perpetuate large punitive institutions at great cost even though best practices demonstrate that local community-based, family-involved treatment is more effective at reducing juvenile crime. Imprisonment fails as a strategy to rehabilitate because it seldom changes behavior except to worsen it.
I do not mean that incarceration is never necessary nor that any state should ignore the need for swift action to remove a kid from the public in exigent circumstances. And I don’t mean that any kid should not be held accountable for his or her criminal actions.
But our juvenile justice systems should be held accountable also – to increase public safety through attention to the individual circumstances of a child in conflict with the law.
…sending fewer kids to prison is only one step on the path to a rational, competent and effective system. What follows is a list of some necessary components – means to the ends of greater public safety, positive outcomes for kids in conflict with the law and greater fiscal responsibility.
- Data. The system often doesn’t have research data or ignores it. Instead, it relies upon shorthand formulas, such as bright-line rules like “three strikes and you are out of society and into prison.” Real world information about the characteristics of the juvenile population is needed at all decision points in the system.
- Restorative justice. Crime creates real harm to real people, not just an infraction against state rules. The offender, the victim and the community must be included…
- Training. Creating a common vocabulary and a common understanding of juvenile characteristics, science and effective practices requires training at all levels.
(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)
“IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK”
Bokeh, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s art blog, has featured some wonderful photographic creations by kids in an art program at a Rhode Island detention center. The program, known as AS 220, serves kids in the state’s juvenile detention center, and holds classes at a middle school for at-risk youths and in the community through their brick and mortar studio. Creative programs like this one have proven to be hugely beneficial by providing kids with an emotional outlet, and a sense of empowerment and self-worth, and by helping them develop problem-solving skills.
In the striking images from AS 220’s “If these walls could talk,” the magic made is not an illusion. Like a surrealist painting, the manipulated photos employ metaphor and symbol to create dynamic portraits.
Two students pose with giant light wings blossoming out behind them: Her’s white and linear, his multi-colored confetti-like squiggles.
We all know the myth of Icarus. If you fly too close to the sun you’re bound to be burned, an appropriate analogy for young people reflecting on the decisions they’ve made and paths they have chosen.
Scott Lapham, the program’s photography coordinator, is the adult brain behind the project. As he sees it, “Ancient Greek myths are of great interest because their characters often posses both supernatural powers and human frailties … [the students] are also encouraged to reflect on how the myths of Icarus, Odysseus and Midas can pertain to their own past and future decision making.”
It seems especially crucial that children serving time for mistakes they have made should be able to re-compose their histories up to that point. Reflect on their lives and situations as something other than “system-involved.”
TWO TAKES ON SENATE HEARINGS ON FEDERAL PRISON POLICY
A US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Wednesday to discuss problems facing federal prisons. The hearing featured testimony by Bureau of Prisons Chief Charles Samuels Jr., who said that overcrowding in federal prisons is putting prison guards in danger. Samuels endorsed AG Eric Holder’s reform package as a solution, and also stressed the importance of rehabilitative reentry programs to curb recidivism.
The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo and Ryan J. Reilly have the story. Here’s a clip:
“The staff are putting their lives on the line every single day,” said Samuels in his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on challenges facing the federal prison system.
There is one corrections officer for every 150 inmates in the system’s housing units, Samuels noted. To manage this population, the bureau is doubling and tripling the number of inmates bunking cells, and converting television rooms and open bays into sleeping quarters.
Still, “challenges remain as the inmate population continues to increase,” Samuels said.
There are 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, compared with 25,000 in 1980, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half of these inmates are in prison for drug crimes.
Changing how the government prosecutes those crimes could help reduce overcrowding, Samuels said.
He endorsed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which calls for federal prosecutors to consider providing certain non-violent offenders with access to special drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration.
These efforts “will help stem the tide of offenders entering the bureau and lead to lower average sentences where appropriate, and thus should decrease our population somewhat over the long term,” Samuels said.
Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic, was critical of the hearings and felt that senators failed to ask Samuels the hard questions on crucial issues. Here are some clips:
If you think Congressional “oversight” of an unelected official who controls the everyday lives of over 200,000 American prisoners ought to include probing questions and candid answers about dubious life-or-death practices and policies, then you surely would have been disappointed Wednesday morning watching members of the Senate Judiciary Committee play patty-cake with Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels.
Only Senator Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, mustered up a serious question for the prisons chief. In fact, he asked one of the questions I had asked someone to ask of Samuels. Senator Durbin wanted to know: What had the Bureau of Prisons done since June 2012, the last time Samuels appeared before the Judiciary Committee, to study the relationship between solitary confinement and mental illness among federal inmates? It’s a question that goes to the heart of the BOP’s most controversial practice—as well as one that directly implicates the “cost” component of confinement.
Samuels told the Committee that there are approximately 4,000 fewer inmates in “restricted housing” today than there were then but, given the bureaucratic nature of prison-speak, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Samuels did not even mention mentally ill federal prisoners in his response to Senator Durbin’s question about them. The senator, for his part, inexplicably did not press the BOP chief for such a response, and then the pair moved on to talk about the relative costs of confinement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as opposed to confinement on the American mainland.
That was it. From this Committee, that single question and non-responsive answer was the extent of anything that could be remotely considered “oversight” in the classic sense of that word. Sure, they talked about how expensive it is to house federal prisoners—far more expensive than it is to house state prisoners. And they talked about how important it is to ensure the safety of correctional officers. And they talked about all the shiny programs the BOP says it employs to help inmates prepare themselves for their eventual release.
But true accountability and transparency? No.
MRT’S MARCH AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION THROUGH SEX TRAFFICKING
In his November newsletter, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a march and rally for Los Angeles’ children who have fallen victim to human trafficking. The march will take place on November 21st from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m. along Long Beach Blvd. Ridley-Thomas has been pushing for new solutions on this issue, and we hope he keeps it up.
“I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of our children to join us Friday, November 21,” said the Chairman. “A concerned community must turn out to let these victims know we care, tell the neighborhood that this blight will not be tolerated and to send a warning to the customers and traffickers that we are watching you and we will come after you.”
On any given day along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard that traverses the cities of Compton, Lynwood and into South Gate, scores of young girls can be seen walking along in short skirts and tight tops while older men in cars slow down to arrange a purchase. It continues to be called prostitution, yet in many cases it is not – it is actually the sex trafficking of children. Trafficking is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade that is now largely run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise. With victims often expected to have sex with as many as 20 adult men per night, and a nightly quota set by the pimp to bring in between $1,000 to $3,500 per day, it is also becoming more profitable than drug dealing.
PSYCHOLOGISTS ARGUE ABOUT LOCK-UP LOCATION FOR 13-YEAR OLD WHO, AT TEN, SHOT HIS NEO-NAZI FATHER
Hearings resumed on Tuesday in the case of the Riverside, CA, boy who, at age 10, shot and killed his White Supremacist father. The boy has already been convicted of 2nd degree murder. What remains is sentencing, and the decision as to where the now-thirteen year old will do his time. Tuesday mostly featured dueling psychologist/experts who, according to KNBC’s Patrick Healy, could not agree about much. They did, however, give a harrowing look into the homelife that may have played a role in the boy’s violent actions.
John Rogers of the Associated Press has also been following this story closely. Here are some clips from his report on last week’s fight over the 13-year-old’s fate.
A 13-year-old boy who became one of the nation’s youngest killers when he shot his neo-Nazi father to death as the man slept should be incarcerated in a state juvenile justice facility to protect him and the public, a judge was told Friday during a sentencing hearing.
As the baby-faced, blond-haired teen sat quietly in court, sometimes fidgeting in his chair or scribbling in a notebook, Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio said the severity of the crime he committed at age 10 can’t be overlooked.
Soccio said the boy needs to be in a more secure system, with fences and locked gates, where he would receive the necessary treatment.
“He needs to be in a protective environment for his safety and that of others,” the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors say the boy shot his father behind the ear at point-blank range as he slept on a sofa after coming home from a night of drinking. The child later told police he was afraid he would have to choose between living with his father and his stepmother, who were headed for a divorce.
Attorneys for the boy have said he reacted after years of horrific abuse that left him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anger and fear issues, learning disabilities and other emotional problems.
The lawyers deferred their opening statement until the hearing resumes on Tuesday, when they will have a chance to call witnesses. But outside court, defense lawyer Punam Grewal said the teenager was abused almost from the day he was born.
“The only thing he learned was the world of fear and violence,” she said.
His mother and his attorneys want him sent to a private residential treatment center, where security would be lighter and therapy more intense.
Soccio didn’t directly address the boy’s emotional troubles during the hearing. He did call witnesses who testified about the safety and educational value at California’s juvenile lockups.
SEXUAL ABUSE-PLAGUED GA JUVIE PRISON TO CLOSE
In a survey looking at sexual victimization inside jails, prisons and juvenile facilities released this past summer by the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Dallas, Ga. stood out as the worst in the nation when it came to kids being victimized. One in three kids locked up in the place reported that they’d been sexually victimized by staff or other kids during the previous 12 months.
As the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted in June, four Georgia lockups for juveniles were among the 13 nationwide that had the highest percentage of youth reporting inappropriate sexual contact with detention officers.
Now, it turns out the state of Georgia is closing the worst of the four facilities—a for profit lock-up run by Youth Services International (YSI).
“The decision to close the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center was based totally on economics. This decommissioning is a state agency business assessment based on cost savings and changing detention populations.”
In fairness, the state of Georgia quickly launched an investigation into the matter this summer after suspending 20 of its existing juvie justice investigators who had all but ignored 20 open cases of sexual abuse of juveniles in the state’s facilities.
Last week, the Huffington Post took a close and very alarming look at YSI and it’s for-profit Juvie lock-ups—particularly those in Florida, where the company does the bulk of its business—in a deeply reported 2-part series Chris Kirkham.
It is a must read.
Here’s the series’ opening to get you started:
From a glance at his background, one might assume that James F. Slattery would have a difficult time convincing any state in America to entrust him with the supervision of its lawbreaking youth.
Over the past quarter century, Slattery’s for-profit prison enterprises have run afoul of the Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas for alleged offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts.
The Huffington Post uploaded and annotated the documents — including court transcripts, police reports, audits and inspection records — uncovered during this investigation.
Hover over the highlighted passages to see the source document behind each fact.
In 2001, an 18-year-old committed to a Texas boot camp operated by one of Slattery’s previous companies, Correctional Services Corp., came down with pneumonia and pleaded to see a doctor as he struggled to breathe. Guards accused the teen of faking it and forced him to do pushups in his own vomit, according to Texas law enforcement reports. After nine days of medical neglect, he died.
That same year, auditors in Maryland found that staff at one of Slattery’s juvenile facilities coaxed inmates to fight on Saturday mornings as a way to settle disputes from earlier in the week. In recent years, the company has failed to report riots, assaults and claims of sexual abuse at its juvenile prisons in Florida, according to a review of state records and accounts from former employees and inmates.
Despite that history, Slattery’s current company, Youth Services International, has retained and even expanded its contracts to operate juvenile prisons in several states. The company has capitalized on budgetary strains across the country as governments embrace privatization in pursuit of cost savings. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are today committed to private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011, up from about 33 percent twelve years earlier.
Over the past two decades, more than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through one of Slattery’s prisons, boot camps or detention centers, according to a Huffington Post analysis of juvenile facility data.
The private prison industry has long fueled its growth on the proposition that it is a boon to taxpayers, delivering better outcomes at lower costs than state facilities. But significant evidence undermines that argument: the tendency of young people to return to crime once they get out, for example, and long-term contracts that can leave states obligated to fill prison beds. The harsh conditions confronting youth inside YSI’s facilities, moreover, show the serious problems that can arise when government hands over social services to private contractors and essentially walks away.
Those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades, according to a HuffPost investigation that included interviews with 14 former employees and a review of thousands of pages of state audits, lawsuits, local police reports and probes by state and federal agencies.
MICHAEL SKAKEL, CONVICTED OF MURDERING TEENAGE NEIGHBOR AT 15, IS GETTING A NEW TRIAL THAT COULD FREE HIM, BUT IS HE GUILTY OF THE CRIME? THE NEW YORKER’S JEFFREY TOOBIN SAYS YES
We often find ourselves reporting on the legal difficulties faced by those who turn out to be wrongly convicted.
The extraordinary legal saga of Michael Skakel took its most surprising turn last week. In 2002, Skakel was convicted of murdering his neighbor Martha Moxley, in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975, when both of them were fifteen years old. After more than a decade of futile appeals, a Connecticut Superior Court judge granted Skakel a new trial on the grounds that his attorney, Michael Sherman, had provided ineffective assistance under the Sixth Amendment.
The hundred-and-thirty-six-page opinion by Judge Thomas A. Bishop is a peculiar document. It is designed to prove that Sherman did an incompetent job, but Bishop seems principally interested in proving that Skakel was in fact not guilty of the murder. Bishop, it seems, wanted to dispense rough justice—that is, to free an innocent man from prison, using whatever legal tools he had at his disposal.
This, in a way, is admirable. Wrongful convictions are individual and societal tragedies, and judges should do whatever they can to reverse them. The question is whether Skakel was wrongfully convicted. I covered the trial and read Bishop’s opinion, and I still think that the jury got this one right—that Michael Skakel killed Moxley.
The murder took place on October 30th, known as “mischief night,” for the local tradition of raucous fun on the eve of Halloween. There were many kids, including Moxley, coming and going on the Skakel property. Moxley was romantically involved with Thomas Skakel, Michael’s seventeen-year-old brother. Michael, too, was interested in Moxley, and the two brothers had a contentious relationship about this and other matters. Moxley never came home on the night of October 30th, and her body was discovered on the lawn of her own house in Greenwich the next day…..
In closing Toobin contends is that Skakel is getting a second chance at a jury trial, not because of compelling evidence that he was poorly defended, or that he was wrongly convicted, but because he has the money and his family the social standing to repeatedly pull whatever possible legal strings there were until something—or someone—finally gave way:
Skakel has had a decade of appeals and finally found a judge who bought his story. Less privileged defendants don’t have those kinds of opportunities. Skakel’s victory is due as much to his many privileges as a defendant as it is to the actual evidence in his case.
These are not comforting words. But, sadly, they have the ring of truth..
THE MADNESS OF THE FIGHT OVER WHETHER LAUSD SUPERINTENDENT DEASY SHOULD STAY
We’ve not covered the battle over whether or not Los Angeles Unified School District head guy John Deasy would be forced out. But we are very relieved that the wrong-headed move to push Deasy out has not succeeded. The superintendent is staying until 2016.
The LA Times editorial board weighed in on the matter before Tuesday’s vote to keep Deasy. Here’s a clip from their very sane view:
There are so many dramas and mini-disasters at the Los Angeles Unified School District, they have to take a number and line up for attention. First, a special meeting was called for Tuesday so that the board could set a broad vision from which future policies would flow. Then the board put off the vision thing in favor of a meeting on the more immediate, problem-riddled iPad project. Now it is delaying that discussion to devote the meeting to the topic of Supt. John Deasy, the bold but stubborn school reformer who stunned Los Angeles last week when it was revealed that he is on the verge of quitting the job he has held since 2011.
It’s unclear whether Deasy really intends to resign in frustration or whether, in fact, he expects to be fired at his performance evaluation Tuesday — which would be an astoundingly bad mistake on the part of the board. It’s also possible that he is merely bluffing in order to pressure the board members into toning down their criticism of him.
The board is at a crucial juncture. It must back away from micromanaging, and it must stop empowering those board members whose main goal is to return to those imaginary good old days when little or nothing happened without the approval of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union. Those were not, in fact, good days at all for L.A. Unified’s students, too many of whom were reaching high school barely able to read picture books. Given the current crisis, the board’s best move would be to hire an organizational consultant to iron out the friction and help the board understand and carry out its proper role….
BREAKING AWAY FROM THE MISGUIDED HABIT OF CRIMINALIZING YOUNG SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS
A notable new report calls for law enforcement and prosecutors to stop treating minors involved in prostitution as criminals and start treating them as victims.
Throwing these kids into justice system greatly damages their chances of breaking free from the grip of prostitution and stacks the odds against successful adult lives, according to the report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council and sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Police and prosecutors should treat juveniles accused of prostitution as victims of crime and abuse and stop arresting these minors and putting them into the criminal justice system, according to a report released Tuesday by Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
The institute and council are under the auspices of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. The report, “Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States” was sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Justice officials were particularly interested in learning more about “punitive” responses to the trafficking of youth for prostitution, researchers said. They noted that youths involved in child pornography are not arrested, while minors who engage in prostitution by and large are still arrested.
A movement is growing in justice circles that opposes arresting juvenile prostitutes, researchers said. Reformers believe arrests may just inflict more damage on youth who are already fragile. But only nine states as of spring 2012 had enacted versions of “safe harbor” laws ensuring that teens accused of prostitution are treated as victims and exempted from prosecution. The team that produced the report is urging all federal, state and municipal jurisdictions to “redirect” victims” under the age of 18 away from arrest and prosecution and “toward systems, agencies and services that are equipped to meet their needs.”
“These are children that are prostituted. These are children that are harmed. These are not criminals,” Ellen Wright Clayton, a physician and member of the team, said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe have co-authored a motion that calls for county leaders to come together and establish guidelines for handling (and helping) sex-trafficked kids.
The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, directs the Chief Executive Office to bring together the departments of Probation, Children and Family Services, Public Social Services, Mental Health, Public Health, Health Services, the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department and come up with an implementation plan.
Currently, the county does not have a protocol to help children that are trafficked and so many end-up without services or help and go back out on the street. The protocol would ensure they are placed in a safe environment, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services.
And over in New York this week, chief judge Jonathan Lippman announced the first state-wide Human Trafficking Intervention Courts in the nation. The new system will combat the all-too-common criminalization of sex trafficking victims, and will provide, in addition to a reduced or dismissed sentence, court-ordered programs and resources to keep defendants off the streets and away from prostitution.
An NY Times editorial explains why the new courts are a step in the right direction. Here are some clips:
A handful of cities across the country, including Baltimore and Phoenix, have specialized courts that deal with sex-trafficking offenses. On Wednesday, Judge Lippman announced the creation of the nation’s first statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution-related offenses and make services available to help sex-trafficking victims escape their abusive situations and forge new lives.
“This new initiative will stop the pattern of shuffling trafficking victims through our criminal courtrooms without addressing the underlying reasons they are there in the first place,” Judge Lippman said.
The program borrows, in some respects, from the state’s system of specialized courts that deal with domestic violence and low-level drug offenses. It calls for prostitution-related cases to be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor. If they agree, the court will connect defendants to critical services like safe shelter, medical and drug treatment, immigration assistance and education and job training that can help prevent a return to the sex industry. Contingent upon the defendants’ compliance with court-ordered services and programs, the charges may be dismissed or reduced, enabling the defendants to avoid a criminal record with damaging repercussions for housing, employment, college financial aid, government benefits and immigration status.
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S SHIFT TOWARD A MORE RESTORATIVE APPROACH TO JUVENILE JUSTICE
In addition to the moves that Eric Holder’s been making on drug crimes and federal sentencing, there has been a new push on the part of the DOJ to change the conversation about juvenile justice.
For instance, since becoming administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the beginning of the year, Robert Listenbee has enthusiastically advocating a more trauma-informed approach to youth justice.
Listenbee, a former co-chair of the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and a public defender, says his aim is to keep kids “in school and out of courts.”
Before he joined the federal government, Listenbee co-chaired the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. Now he’s the man in charge of making its recommendations come to life. His report — packed with recommendations about the need for more research and attention on boys, rural areas and the education system — attracted scant attention because it emerged on the same day as the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook school.
But more attention could come Thursday in Northern Virginia, where mayors, police chiefs, educators and young people will join Listenbee, Attorney General Eric Holder and Office of Justice Programs chief Karol Mason to talk about reducing gang activity and other violence that affects kids across the country.
“It’s important for everyone to recognize that the trauma that comes from exposure to violence is multifaceted,” Listenbee says. “Children who are sexually assaulted, boys and girls, experience the trauma very differently from other kinds of exposure. Children who experience community violence … also have a different kind of trauma. Each one requires a specific type of treatment. … We are [at] the beginning of this era of understanding the impact of exposure to violence and the kinds of treatment that are needed … and we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time.”
He points out that the idea that children are different from adults and that there’s a need to understand their brain development if they have brushes with the law has won support from the U.S. Supreme Court in several recent decisions. So his office and other parts of the Justice Department are supporting research to understand those differences — and to offer advice to states, where most of the juvenile justice money is spent.
On Thursday, Listenbee joined AG Eric Holder and other DOJ officials at the Summit on Preventing Youth Violence in Virginia. Ten cities, including San Jose and Salinas, CA sent representatives and kids to be a part of the symposium.
ABC’s MaryAlice Parks has more on the summit. Here are some clips:
Children — many of whom were victims of crimes themselves — took center stage at the summit. From California to Louisiana, high school and college students who had survived violence in their own rough communities, and in many cases participated in violence too, spoke about what was and was not working in their neighborhoods.
“Instead of preparing for the ACT or filling out college applications or even going to prom or graduation,” Briana Winters, 17, of Memphis said, “youth in my city are dying because of senseless violence or being put in jail for pulling the trigger.”
But these young people also expressed optimism, often singling out individuals or organizations that had made a difference in their lives.
Darren Alridge, from New Orleans, talked about mentoring other high school students after he was released from prison and completed his GED. “They all loved it when I was coming to school and feeding them positive thoughts, so I kinda figured if I can talk to 10 men and change one to two lives, then I can talk to 100 and change 10 or 20.”
(You can read AG Eric Holder’s opening speech at the summit here.)
On a related note, next week is the National Week of Action on School Pushout when advocates across twenty-four states will rally against zero-tolerance school discipline policies and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Here are the listed events in California between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5:
Los Angeles, CA:
DSC-Los Angeles Chapter Members
(CADRE, Public Counsel, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, ACLU of Southern California)
Youth forum and other local events promoting School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
Long Beach, CA:
Youth Committee of Building Healthy Communities
Saturday, October 5 at 1:00pm
The Art Theater of Long Beach
2025 E 4th St., Long Beach, CA
Talk it Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline performance and discussion
Black Organizing Project
Monday, September 30 at 6:00pm
Oakland Peace Center 111 Fairmount Ave
Pushback on Pushout Potluck to engage youth and partner organizations
DSC Bay Area Chapter
Monday, September 30
Youth Council Meeting to discuss school pushout
ACLU of Northern California
Monday, September 30
Produce video of 3-5 youth talking about how school pushout impacts LGBTQ youth
GSA Network of CA
Thursday, October 3 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Zimmerman Boys and Girls Club
540 N. Augusta St.
Rally and Youth Speak Out on Restorative Justice, in alliance with Black Student Union clubs, Californians for Justice clubs, and Friday Night Live clubs
CONTRACTED PROBATION COMPANIES FORCE PROBATIONERS TO PAY HEFTY SUMS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, LOCK ‘EM UP WHEN THEY DEFAULT
With all the attention focused on the conflict of interest presented by the private prison industry, which has to keep its cells full in order to make money, we are now finding a newly alarming area in which private industry intersects with criminal justice: the world of probation.
She writes of how a Georgia judge ruled last week that the private probation company Sentinel Offender Service had been illegally increasing sentences of probationers who could not pay their monthly probation fees, essentially creating a work-around debtors prison.
Here are some clips:
In January, Nathan Ryan Mantooth was sentenced to 12 months of probation for an improper lane change by a county judge in Georgia. He was ordered to pay a $420 fine, attend a driver improvement course, and pay a monthly probation supervision fee of $35 to Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation firm. He paid the fee and completed the course within a week of his sentencing. Twice, he went to Sentinel to submit his certificate of completion but was told his name was not yet in the computer. But when he was pulled over two months later for failure to wear a seatbelt, police found an outstanding warrant filed by Sentinel for a probation violation, and took him into custody.
Last week, a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.
In this class action lawsuit, Sentinel’s lawyer admitted to Judge Daniel Craig that, when the firm finds individuals have violated their probation, it makes no attempt to find them immediately and bring them before a judge. Instead, employees just issue probation warrants that can sit for years until an individual’s next encounter with the police reveals an open warrant that lands them in jail. At that point, they cannot dispute their incarceration until they can be brought before a judge during a regular session of court to show that their probation has ended, or that they have already completed their obligations.
At least ten states used private probation as of a 2007 report published by Georgia State University.
Like our current prison system, probation is no longer about rehabilitation. It has turned into a profit game and recidivism makes business better. Yes, probation is being privatized and local, state and federal governments no longer have to be responsible for funding the program. The programs are being turned over to private corporations. The funding is coming from the offenders.
Most offenders have lived in poverty for the majority of their life. It is hard, if not impossible, for people living below the poverty level to be able to fund their own probation. This fact makes our new system evil and oppressive.
It doesn’t improve our society by rehabilitating our offenders but ensures that the offenders are forever in trouble. The chances of escaping are remote. Because private probation services are motivated by income, the heavier the caseload, the more the revenue.
One of California’s most committed, practical, gets-his-hands-dirty, knowledgable and impassioned advocates for locked-up kids is Scott Budnick—who in his day job is the executive producer for all three of the insanely successful Hangover movies.
Yeah, that Scott Budnick.
(The above videos give glimpses into Budnick’s two worlds.)
We think you’ll find the whole interview quite interesting, but to start you off, here’s a clip from the intro, and another from the interview itself:
“I was very skeptical when I first met him,” recalls Julio Marcial, who oversees violence prevention programs for the California Wellness Foundation, one of Budnick’s primary funders. That introduction took place at the Sylmar branch of LA County’s juvenile hall, circa 2003. Budnick was volunteering at the time (and still does) with InsideOUT Writers, a Hollywood nonprofit that brings journalists and creative types into juvie to help incarcerated kids find positive ways to express themselves. “I’ve seen Hollywood folks come and go. I’ve seen people do this to make themselves feel better,” Marcial says. “But when I asked the kids why this program was so important to them, they said Scott was the consistent adult in their lives. He became a fatherlike figure to them.”
“He’s the real deal,” confirms my friend Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor who has served on the Los Angeles County Commission on Jail Violence and now runs the National Council on Crime & Delinquency.
And now here’s a snipped from the Q & A:
SB:…when I moved out here, I spent my first few years working in Hollywood and kind of staying within the bubble, going out to nice restaurants and bars and hanging out with other assistants and talking about the business. After three or four years, I just found that so incredibly boring. And luckily Matthew Mizell, a friend of mine who works for another filmmaker, said—it was 2003 at this point—”Come down to Sylmar, I teach this creative writing class.” So I went. It was truly one of the most humbling, mind-blowing mornings of my life. And that kind of started my journey.
MJ: What was so striking about it?
SB:It opens your eyes to what’s really happening in our cities. I sat at a table with 12 kids, 14 to 17 years old, who were all facing life in prison. None of them had fathers and they’d all been physically or sexually or emotionally abused, and very poor schools and poor peers and very loose family structure—not enough discipline and not enough love. Most of them came from the foster care system. Then one day they decide not to be victims anymore and they commit a crime and they hurt somebody, and to me it’s like society threw them away and forget about them. The idea that intrigued me the most was, “They go from the kids that we pour our hearts out to to the kids we are terrified of because of one action?” I thought, you know what, I think I can have an effect here. I can understand these kids’ stories. I tried to just go in and be there for them.
MJ: What do the kids think about this rich guy coming in and spending time with them?
SB:I think at first I was looked at as this rich guy from Hollywood who probably wears cool tennis shoes or something that’s intriguing to them. But after a while that goes away, and they’re wondering if this is really a guy who will fight for them. So it takes time. Once they realize what I’ll do if they show that they are serious about changing their lives and really doing the right thing, then I think that ends up defining our relationship. By the way, when I go into prisons, inmates are coming up to me literally every five seconds going, “Aren’t you the Hangover guy? Aren’t you the Hangover guy?” It definitely is an interesting identity….
Read on to find out how Budnick (who—full disclosure—is a pal of WLA’s) got into the “Hangover” business, and his next goal in helping to reform the state’s lock-up policies.
SANTA CLARA’S GRAND GAMBLE ON A NON-PUNITIVE YOUTH RANCH HELPS TRIGGER NEW BILL
In 2006, Santa Clara County Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell took a leap of faith and invested in some of her most visionary juvenile probation supervisors and got the necessary $3 million to turn the county’s main juvenile lock-up—the William F. James Boys Ranch—into a facility that emphasized helping lawbreaking kids change their lives, rather than simply trying to force them to correct their behaviors. Since the latter strategy had been notably ineffective judging by juvenile recidivism rates in Santa Clara and around the state, Mitchell decided it was time to try something different.
Brian Goldstein, a policy analyst with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, writes for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange about how Santa Clara’s gamble paid off, in lives and in statistical outcomes, and how a new California bill—AB915—aims to incentivize the creation of similar youth facilities by other California counties.
Here’s a clip:
…Increasingly, experts are recognizing that the best way to improve public safety is to rely less on state correctional institutions for treating youth offenders, and more on the dynamic therapeutic approach delivered at the county level.
In late April, the staff of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) toured a facility that exemplified this trend, the William F. James Boys Ranch in California’s Santa Clara County.
James Ranch is a co-ed, 96-bed residential facility for young people between the ages of 15 ½ and 18, situated in the rolling foothills south of San Jose. The facility and staff are not only driven by a passion for improving the lives of local justice-involved youth, but challenge the conventional thinking by showing that they can receive successful, positive treatments locally. The facility has adopted many components of what is now recognized as a model system, including small dorm facilities, staff focused on youth wellness, and therapeutic programming that is gender-specific and culturally competent.
The ranch wasn’t always this way. Previously, the facility operated under a model focused more on behavioral regulation, which the county’s probation department now recognizes as antithetical to successful outcomes. The correctional approach was expensive, yet resulted in many escapes, numerous violent incidents and high recidivism rates.
Read the rest for details on AB 915, which basically takes a percentage of the $$ savings realized when the counties send fewer high risk kids to the state juvie facilities, and uses those savings to create “a funding stream for developing the model practices and leadership such as those found at James Ranch.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WLA has also visited the James Ranch as part of a series on California’s juvenile facilites that we have planned for the fall. We too were extremely impressed by what we saw.
MORE ON LA ARCHDIOCESE’S SECRET FILES ON ALLEGED MOLESTATION CASES
The LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting article in Tuesday’s paper about the Catholic Church’s tradition of keeping a second set of books on sensitive subjects within the church, things like a priest’s history of child sexual abuse allegations. In other words, rather than destroying any problematic documents, the church simply tucked them away in confidential files or C-files, that were only for church higher-ups to see.
The docu-dump of clergy abuse files that occurred earlier this year was largely from this cache.
Here’s an explanatory clip from Kim’s story:
Since the time of the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church has maintained two sets of records: one for the mundane and a second “secret archive” for matters of a sensitive nature. The cache — known as sub secreto files, Canon 489 files, confidential files or C-files — was to be kept under lock and key, only for the eyes of the bishop and his trusted few.
After the files became known to prosecutors and plaintiff’s lawyers, the American justice system has pried open the doors to an archive long kept sealed. Thousands of additional pages are set to become public in coming months, as more than a dozen Catholic orders — Salesians, Claretians, Vincentians and others — prepare to bare their own secrets pursuant to agreements with victims. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias could set the date for their release at a hearing Tuesday.
It was, however, at the very end of the article that Kim noted the reason that this whole C-file business should be of special interest to Los Angeles:
Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org which collects clergy sex-abuse related documents from across the U.S., said [retired Cardinal Roger] Mahony was clearly a far more meticulous keeper of records than his predecessors and that may have hurt him when the archive was made public.
“I don’t know of any other diocesan archive where scheming to manipulate reporting laws and access of law enforcement to these cases is as explicit as in these L.A. documents,” he said.
That last sentence is interesting. How exactly, one wonders, did Mahoney limit access of law enforcement to cases of child molestation that were actually reported? Were there instances that members of LA law enforcement allowed themselves to be persuaded by Mahoney not to aggressively pursue certain cases? Or were they as much in the dark as everybody else?
WARREN OLNEY CONFRONTS CARMEN TRUTANICH WITH, YOU KNOW, FACTS REGARDING HIS REALIGNMENT CAMPAIGN ATTACKS AGAINST FEUER
Thursday night’s Which Way LA? with Warren Olney on KCRW featured City Attorney candidates Mike Feuer and incumbent Carmen Trutanich, with each man interviewed for half the show.
More than perhaps any other interviewer or debate moderator during this election season, Olney has consistently asked the most intelligent, probing and illuminating questions of all the candidates who have stepped behind his microphones.
However, his segment with Trutanich was a standout, as the ever dignified Olney all but chased “Nuch” around the room (metaphorically speaking), after Trutantich repeated his nonsense about AB109 letting inmates out of prison early, accusing realignment and Mike Feuer of being responsible for putting the Northridge kidnapping suspect on the street so the man could snatch ten-year-old girls….and more.
As we’ve said here, there is a legitimate and important discussion to be had about reforming AB 109 and some of its companion statutes mandating parole and probation reform. But that would require understanding the law in the first place, which Trutanich does not appear to do, and then one would have to deal in…you know, facts.
In the meantime, a hearty thank you to Warren Olney for holding our city attorney’s feet to the factual fire.
NEW STUDY ON PRISON RAPE AND SEXUAL VICTIMIZATION IN LOCK-UPS SHOWS THAT YOUTH ARE 13-21 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED THAN ADULTS WHEN INCARCERATED
A study released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) contained a number of disturbing statistics. But perhaps the most alarming stats have to do with the overall rates of sexual victimization for youth ages 16 and 17 in adult prisons (4.5%) and jails (4.7%), which were significantly higher than those for adults (4.0% in prisons, 3.2% in jails). The report also found that, among kids who reported being sexual victimized by staff, three quarters were victimized more than once, and nearly half said that staff used force or threat of force.
Yet those stats don’t tell the whole story, since kids are much fewer in numbers than adults in lock-up.
According to the highly respected Campaign for Youth Justice, research by BJS shows that 21% and 13% of all substantiated victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005 and 2006 respectively, were youth under the age of 18 (surprisingly high since only 1% of jail inmates are juveniles). Put another way, previous BJS research shows that youth in adult facilities were 13 to 21 times as likely to be sexually assaulted while in custody than their representation in the correctional population.
“This study tells us that youth face sexual victimization in adult institutions, but due to underreporting by youth in challenging adult facility conditions, we need more research to know more about this problem,” says Liz Ryan, President and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ). “Previous studies and the experiences of young people in the adult criminal justice system document that youth are at greatest risk of sexual victimization in adult jails and prisons, “The report underscores the urgency for U.S. Attorney General Holder and the nation’s governors to redouble their efforts to fully implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s (PREA) (http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/preac.html) Youthful Inmate Standard by removing youth under 18 from adult jails and prisons.”
Amnesty International also noted that inmates who identify as LGBT in prisons and jails were at least 2.5 times more likely to be sexually victimized by staff than non-LGBT detainees.
LA’S TWIN TOWERS JAIL SHOWS HIGH RATE OF INMATE ON INMATE SEXUAL ASSAULTS ACCORDING TO THE STUDY
In the study, as you might immagine, some prisions and jails had higher frequencies of sexual abuse than others. The report flagged 11 male prisons, 1 female prison, and 9 jails that it identified as high-rate facilities based on the prevalence of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization in 2011-12.
LA’s Twin Towers Jail was one of those 9 Jails with the highest rates of sexual assaults, said the report. (SEE PAGES 11 & 12)
AND NOW BACK TO REALIGNMENT: A NEW STUDY INDICATES THAT ARRESTS AND CONVICTIONS REMAIN ABOUT THE SAME AS PRE-REALIGNMENT
A new study released Thursday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicates that, under realignment, post-prison arrests are slightly down, while convictions remain static.
The study followed 37,448 lawbreakers for one year after their release from prison and compared those findings with statistics on 51,910 inmates released in the year immediately prior realignment.
The researchers found that post-Realignment offenders were arrested at a slightly lower rate than pre-Realignment offenders (62 percent pre-Realignment and 58.7 percent post-Realignment).
Key findings include:
* The number of post-Realignment offenders convicted of new crimes is nearly the same as the number of pre-Realignment offenders convicted of new crimes (21.3 percent pre-realignment and 22.5 percent post realignment).
* Post-Realignment offenders returned to prison at a significantly lower rate than pre-Realignment offenders, an intended effect of Realignment as most offenders are ineligible to return to prison on a parole violation. (42 percent pre-Realignment and 7.4 percent post-Realignment)
This last is due to the fact that, prior to realignment, parolees were being returned to prison on technical violations of their parole at a rapid clip. Whereas now, with many parolees, technical violations—things like staying out of their old neighborhoods, testing dirty, and so on—do not result in 9 mos more in prison.
There is additional fine grain stuff in the study itself, so click here, if you want delve deeper into the matter. A lot more study is needed, yet the bottom line take-away from this study is that those who have been shrieking that realignment is causing crime to run rife through the countryside, do not have facts on their side.
A judge has officially ended more than a decade of federal oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department that was triggered by a corruption scandal involving abusive officers.
In two short sentences, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess dismissed the final remnants of a consent decree on Wednesday, releasing the department from a transition agreement put in place in 2009 to ensure reforms that had been made were kept in place.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cheered the formal end to agreement at an afternoon news conference with Police Chief Charlie Beck. Villaraigosa said the department, which was once “an example of how not to police a city, is now a national model.”
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the union was pleased the department was free of the federal monitoring.
“Now we can begin looking for efficiencies in LAPD processes while at the same time maintaining the transparency the public deserves,” he said. The union represents nearly 10,000 LAPD personnel.
The city was forced into the consent decree in 2001 under the threat of a federal lawsuit. The U.S. government alleged a pattern of civil rights violations committed by police officers that went back decades.
Now that it’s over, it bears remembering that, as odious as the thing was, the Consent Decree was a tool that Bill Bratton used effectively to begin to institute real reform in the department.